The second that I heard that Royal Caribbean was opening up sailings to Cuba I rushed to their site. I was determined to get on one of the first listings offered! At the time that I booked, few cruise lines had ships headed to Havana. Now you can choose from options from many of the major lines including: Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Holland, Fathom, AND Norwegian.
My ship was the Empress of the Seas. It is one of the smallest and oldest ships in Royal Caribbean’s fleet; and I LOVED it!* It has a cuban themed lounge where you can play dominos. You can listen to nightly karaoke, sample a tasty cuban stew from the buffet, and listen to the usual trivia and pool bands.
Our sailing was a short one- only 5 days long. It stopped first in Key West, which proudly boasts that it is 90 miles from Cuba- placing it on many Havana-bound itineraries. Then we did one day in Havana, before heading to Cozumel, Mexico, and then home.
Some Cuban sailings do an overnight in Havana to give you more time- but by and large most of the major cruise lines only stop at that one port for 8 hours. In order to see more parts of Cuba you would need to sail with a luxury line such as Oceania.
While I would have loved more time in Havana, I did relish the time that I had. In order to legally visit Cuba you need to take a people-to-people tour.** Our tour guide did a great job and I feel like I got a nice taste of the area.
We visited 4 plazas with famous churches, such as the San Francisco. These plazas hosted pet dogs who are free to roam, and kids playing during recess. We saw the tree gifted to the country by Michelle Obama during the negotiations that opened the island back up to US tourism, a brick road made of wooden bricks, fascinating modern art, and old preserved architecture.
While we were only taken to main tourist areas, I was able to look down alley ways and see the true variety of Cuban livelihood. On a tour you WILL see classic cars, and you will get a chance to buy a cigar. Do not worry! In fact, our tour even ended with us being taught how to properly smoke the cigar while drinking cuban rum and coffee!
I highly recommend that you visit if you have the chance- and book early! You will save money this way! For frequently asked questions about cruising to Cuba please click here. For other Caribbean destinations click here.
*All of the ships headed to Havana are small ships because the port isn’t large enough to accommodate large ones. ** Any tour offered by the cruise line will qualify as people-to-people.